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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 July 2007, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Tycoon launches new Israeli party
Arcadi Gaydamak
Mr Gaydamak said he was the most popular public figure in Israel
A Russian billionaire has launched a new political party in Israel with the aim of toppling Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition government.

Arcadi Gaydamak said his new party, Social Justice, could win as many as 20 Knesset seats in the next election.

Mr Gaydamak said he would not stand for the Knesset, but would first run for the office of mayor of Jerusalem.

Some 1,400 activists have already begun working for the new party, which will hold its first meeting on Thursday.

The party's platform states that it will work to preserve democratic values, promote equality, and protect human dignity and freedom.

As Social Justice's leader and chairman, Mr Gaydamak will retain complete control of all party-related matters and will personally decide its candidates for any government or parliamentary posts.

Correspondents say Social Justice appears to be a right-wing party that will focus on immigrant issues.

'Most popular figure'

Speaking at the party's official launch, Mr Gaydamak said his primary aim was to oust Prime Minister Olmert, the leader of the rival Kadima party.

"There is an urgent need to change the current government that justifies the creation of a party," he said.

I am not aiming to become prime minister, but I wish to play a central role in Israel's political life
Arcadi Gaydamak

Mr Gaydamak has criticised Mr Olmert and his government for its weak leadership, especially during the war in Lebanon last year, and has angered the prime minister with several highly publicised events.

He gave aid to communities in northern Israel which suffered damage during the war and also offered to pay for holidays for the residents of the southern town of Sderot, which frequently comes under rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza.

"I am the most popular public figure in Israel," Mr Gaydamak said.

"I want to fulfil the wish of the majority of the Israeli population by fundamentally changing things in Israel.

"I am not aiming to become prime minister, but I wish to play a central role in Israel's political life."

A spokesman said a recent survey commissioned by Mr Gaydamak had showed his party could win between 17 and 23 Knesset seats in the next general election.

Arrest warrant

The 54-year-old is a hugely successful businessman in Israel and has made a series of high-profile investments.

Tent city funded by Arcadi Gaydamak during the 2006 war in Lebanon
Mr Gaydamak funded a tent city for evacuees during the war in Lebanon

He already owns Beitar Jerusalem, one of the country's top football teams, and is also a sponsor of the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team.

Mr Gaydamak's commercial dealings have, however, come under scrutiny both in Israel and abroad.

He has been questioned by Israeli police investigating allegations of financial irregularities and is the subject of two French arrest warrants in connection with an arms-dealing case in Angola.

The warrants have forced him to travel on an Angolan diplomatic passport.

His office says he has "not broken any laws in France or elsewhere".

Mr Gaydamak's son, Alexandre, owns the British Premiership football club Portsmouth.




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